Santa Monica Museum celebrates ahead of annual art sale InCognito

The great opera and theater director Peter Sellars draped a chain of Lithuanian amber around his neck for PreCognito, something he does, he said, only for very special occasions. 

That special occasion, Thursday’s gala dinner, celebrated the Santa Monica Museum of Art’s 25th anniversary by honoring Sellars and pioneering art gallery owner Margo Leavin. Noted artists Bill Viola and John Baldessari delivered the introductions.

PreCognito also previewed 700+ artworks, coming up for sale Saturday at SMMoA’s signature annual event, InCognito, which offers each piece at the same $350 plus tax, regardless of the contributing artist. The catch is that signatures are hidden until after purchases are made.

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Among those perusing the paintings, drawings and collages were Sue Naegle, president of HBO Entertainment; David Kramer, a managing director at United Talent Agency; filmmakers Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris; Rebecca Rigg of “Fair Game”; skateboarding champ Salman Agah; SMMoA board chair Price Latimer Agah; art collectors Rosette Delug, Eileen Harris Norton, Linda and Jerry Janger; and more.

“It’s not about the monetary value,” said Faris, an honorary committee chair and director of “Little Miss Sunshine.” “The idea is to buy something because of your connection with the work, and not because it’s by so-and-so.” Faris and Dayton figured they have bought 10 pieces at InCognito over the years.

And so, guests mapped out their strategies for securing their favorite pieces. For convenience sake, room schematics sat rolled up at each place on the long dinner tables that stretched in parallel lines from one end of the room to the other.

Also on tables were drinking glasses hand-blown by students in Watts and fresh-cut banana leaves in lieu of dinner plates. SMMoA executive director Elsa Longhauser said the leaves were cut, washed and brought that afternoon by the partner of legendary Chez Panisse chef Alice Waters, who lent her vision to the dinner. Suzanne Goin of Lucques prepared the exceptional family-style cuisine.

“Wow, what a night,” said Sellars from the podium, praising SMMoA for “the depth of pleasure, the depth of exhilaration, the depth of funkiness that is the Santa Monica Museum of Art.” He also spoke of the museum’s democratic leanings, gesturing toward all the equally sized, equally priced artworks around the room.

During her turn at the podium, Leavin gave a nod to the artists, including those she has exhibited over four decades, as well as to those in the room, naming among them Alexis Smith, Barbara Kruger, Lari Pittman and Larry Bell at her table alone.

“It’s a fact,” she said. “None of us would be here tonight if it weren’t for artists.”

More artists sharing the evening were Mark Bradford, Betye Saar, Salomon Huerta, Allen de Castro, Ed Moses and Samira Yamin. Hundreds more, although not present, had contributed works to the sale, including Edgar Arcenaux, Ed Ruscha, Raymond Pettibon, Catherine Opie, Judy Chicago and others.

Christina Kim of dosa designed the décor, much of it in an African theme, draping the light fixtures in hand-dyed scarves. Bruce Adlhoch and Shulamit Nazarian co-chaired PreCognito, helped by committee members Price Arana, Jeff Davis, Carla Kirkeby, James Parks and Randi Malkin Steinberger.

For information about tickets to InCognito, click here or call (310) 586-6488.

Find more of Ellen Olivier's reports at Society News LA.


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